The Greatness of Ismā‘īlī Muslim Thought: A Tribute to the Ismā‘īlī Philosophers

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Excerpts from the article:

These Isma‘ili Muslim thinkers did not always agree on everything. In fact, they often used to discuss and debate on many points of disagreement. But such disagreement was governed by a higher sense of responsibility, an ethic of humility, in which they realized that – apart from the Imam himself – a single person cannot grasp all the realities of knowledge.

Classical Isma‘ili thought stressed the absolute transcendence of God, exalting Him above all names, attributes, qualities and categories including those of both the material and spiritual words.

Creation did not happen at a point ‘in time’. Rather, creation is a continuous and perpetual ‘event’ – taking place in every moment and instant – by which God originates and sustains all being.

In classical Isma‘ili thought, the Universal Intellect (al-‘aql al-kull) is the First Originated Being which has come into being directly through God’s Word/Command.  The Universal Intellect is the most perfect being in all existence and encompasses all realities. The Intellect is complete, self-sufficient and is the summit of all existence.

The direct Creator (khaliq) of the Cosmos (al-khalq) is the Universal Soul by the spiritual assistance (ta’yid) of the Universal Intellect. In this sense, the Universal Soul is like a ‘womb’ which contains the entire Cosmos, while continuously sustaining and nourishing it.

For human beings, the purpose of the creation is to attain spiritual perfection and achieve union with Universal Soul, through which the Universal Soul returns to the Universal Intellect.

The World of Faith consists of wise human souls manifest in physical bodies: ImamBabHujjahDa‘iMa’dhun. The World of Faith is an ‘Intermediary World’ – consisting of subtle souls manifest in physical bodies – between the Material and Spiritual worlds.

Beyond the duality of the exoteric (zahir) and the esoteric (batin), there lies an even deeper level of understanding known as the esoteric of the esoteric (batin al-batin) which can only be ‘seen’ and experienced directly.

“…The Ismā‘īlīsm which, during the tenth and eleventh centuries of our era, pioneered the most daring metaphysical thought in Islam, has almost withdrawn into silence over the last centuries. Its voice, at once original and traditional, should be heard again today—a task of which it seems that the young Ismā‘īlīs are aware.” (Henry Corbin)

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About the author: Khalil Andani is a doctoral (Ph.D) candidate specializing in Islamic intellectual history, theology, philosophy, and mysticism at Harvard University and holds a Master of Theological Studies degree (2014), specializing in Islamic philosophy and Ismaili thought, from Harvard University. He is also a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) and completed Bachelor of Mathematics (BMath) and Master of Accounting degrees at the University of Waterloo (2008). Khalil’s publications include a book chapter on Nasir-i Khusraw’s philosophical thought in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Islamic Philosophy and articles in Sacred Web and the Matheson Trust.Over the last few years, Khalil has been invited to deliver several guest lectures and conference presentations on various topics in Islamic philosophy, theology and mysticism at Harvard University, University of Toronto, University of Chicago, Carleton University, the American Academy of Religion, and the Middle East Studies Association. He can be contacted at

One thought on “The Greatness of Ismā‘īlī Muslim Thought: A Tribute to the Ismā‘īlī Philosophers

  1. I love this author’s ideas and presentation style and it has continued to kindle my deep interest in the Philosophical Ismailism of a thousand years ago which began with the publication of the Institute of Ismaili Studies’ first academic book in 1995, Paul Walker’s incredible account of ‘Abu Yakub Al Sijistani: Intellectual Missionary’. The rational tool afforded to me by the Al Sijistani-Khusraw cosmological doctrine has fueled my foray into Ismaili esoteric religion while significantly lessening the influence of Ismaili congregational religion in my life.

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